Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Old Division/New Unity

(Photo: Greg Ginn of Black Flag)

Here's a great write-up in the London Review of Books of what sounds like a worthy book about the Velvet Underground. The review is excellent for a number of reasons. One, these sentences about the song "Heroin": "It’s a masterpiece, but a stupid masterpiece, like some of rock’s other great achievements. It certainly didn’t make sense on the radio. It made a little more sense on my tape player, when I was alone in my room."

And, two: for these observations about the Grateful Dead: "In the musical-historical imagination – with its New York v. California, but especially its punk v. hippie oppositions – the Dead ought to be the exact antithesis of the Velvet Underground. I can testify to the vehemence of this, again, from my own juvenile experience. By my teen years I had somehow wound up in a punk rock milieu, on one side of one of those yawning divides of style by which teenagers define themselves. We wore T-shirts of the White Light/White Heat album cover, which could not have existed when the album was originally released. Mere mention of liking the Grateful Dead was grounds for ostracism. In the punk rock schema, the Velvets were Papa (and Mama) punks, while the Dead were Papa hippies – and punks hate hippies. Yet when you look at the state of both bands at their contemporaneous founding moments in 1965-66, you find that the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead started out, in an odd way, as basically the same band. In fact, both bands started with the same name in 1965: the Warlocks. And both were quickly taken up by other cultural movements and artists from other genres to furnish ‘house bands’ for collective projects."

(Ed. Note: Here's the version of "Heroin" from the infamous Norman Dolph acetate -- hat tip Moistworks.)

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